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Topic: Historians who make stupid mistakes

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Date Posted: 3/7/2018 2:27 PM ET
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Just for kicks I thought I'd throw in a review of a historical novel I've just read. The author is writing a series on an American-British heroine who works with Winston Churchill and SOE. The first couple of books in this series are good, but then quickly got progressively worse---historically---as the series continued. The author and her publisher likes to let you think the author understands the history of the time frame she is writing in.  Not so.

While I read a lot of good historical novels, I also sometimes read a very bad one. My example, here is The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan MacNeal. You have to wonder if, for this particular book, all the publisher's editors were on holiday, but someone sent it to the presses anyway. The link goes to the book's page and my review.



Last Edited on: 7/21/20 8:54 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 3/15/2018 9:45 PM ET
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I just finished reading Hunters from the Sky by Charles Whiting.  This is a short, but very interesting, book about German parachute units in World War II. Whiting is the author of numerous books about World War II. He makes a very interesting error in this book.  Whiting states Mussolini was ousted from power "three weeks before the Sicily landing," referring, of course, to the Allied invasion of that island. Actually, that invasion took place on 9 July 1943, and Mussolini wasn't arrested by the Italians until 24 July.

Date Posted: 3/28/2018 9:25 PM ET
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I just finished reading The Civil War 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential People in the War Between the States. I think the book has some serious problems, one being the author isn't as knowledgeable on the people of that period as he and his publisher think. I don't claim to be the world's greatest expert on the Civil War, but I am well read in that period. Something I don't think the author shares. Please see my coments on the book's page.

Date Posted: 4/20/2018 9:18 AM ET
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Microsoft News does it again. Actually, they do it many times, but if I listed all the mistakes here, I'd spend all my time on this site. Of course, I'm talking about historical mistakes. Today the Windows 10 news app has a section called "This Week in History." I've come to believe the MS employes who do this news app never took a course in history. 

One of the current "This Week in History" pages has April 26, 1933, as the day the Nazi Gestapo was established. It includes a large photograph of SS leader "Heinrich Himmler." The only problem is the photograph is of someone anyone with an interest in World War II would immediately recognize: Luftwaffe Commander Herman Goering. It is pretty hard to mistake one for the other.

"This Week in History" also includes the following: "On this day, English poet John Milton sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for an initial sum of £5 (worth $7 today)."  Ha!  Well, if you did go to England for the upcoming wedding, and wanted to turn US $7 into British currency, you would probably get the equilvent of UK five pounds. But the inept employees at Microsoft also probably never took an economics course either. Due to inflation, the five pounds Milton received on April 27, 1677, would probably be worth thousands of English pounds today.

I just went to a site which allows you to plug in two different years and a dollar amount. It would only allow me to plug in 1774 as the earliest year, which is 97 year after Milton sold his copyright. Adding US $5 and the year 2018 resulted in an inflationary value of as high as $2,980 in today's money. It also helps to remember if you lived in Milton's era, an annual income of about 300 pounds made you one of the upper middle class.



Last Edited on: 1/21/19 12:08 AM ET - Total times edited: 5
Date Posted: 6/6/2018 10:18 AM ET
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When did they move the Alamo?

You have to love the Windows 10 News. The people who put it together know how to keep you amused. Today they had an article about an airliner having to land at El Paso, Texas, due to hail damage. So, what photo did they use to introduce the article? It was a photo of the Alamo, which is in San Antonio , a city 552 miles east of El Paso. 

If they do a story about Baltimore will they show a photo of New York City? Perhaps, as they would be more correct, since those two cities are only about 200 miles apart.



Last Edited on: 6/6/18 10:24 AM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 6/30/2018 8:01 PM ET
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I just finished reading The Shining Sea by George Daughan. It is the story of the U.S.S. Essex and its heroic cruise in the eastern Pacific off the west coast of South American in 1812-13 during the War of 1812. It is a truely fascinating story and I recommend it to all. The author really didn't make a "stupid mistake," but rather overlooked a typo early on in the book.

When the Essex was still in the Atlantic it captured a British ship and sent it home as a prize. However, the prize ship was recaptured by a British frigate:

"...in heavy seas northeast of the Bahamas and due west (italics mine) of St. Augustine, Florida..."

I have to assume the author meant "...due east of St. Augustine..."   If the ship was due west of St. Augustine, then it was probably somewhere near Gainesville, where I live, in the middle of north central Florida. While we do have a large lake just east of town, I know of no way a sea-going vessel could get there. smiley



Last Edited on: 3/22/19 3:38 AM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 7/3/2018 10:45 AM ET
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I tell you, here I thought I knew so much about American history, but the people associated with the Windows 10 News keep proving me wrong.  Here are two bits of American history I learned today.

"Betsy Ross became a widower (italics and underline added) at 24 when her husband was killed in the early days of the American Revolution."  

God, what we don't know about our history!  Who knew Betsy Ross was a transsexual?  Or maybe I'm wrong about this. Perhaps she was in a same-sex marriage. I need to research this more. In any case, this will change the way we look at the lady who 'created' our flag.

The other astonishing bit of trivia has to do with real estate.

On July 3, 1608, "French explorer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain discovers the city of Quebec."

Wow! To think the entire city of Quebec was there all that time before de Champlain discovered it. I wonder how the French, who kept going up and down the St. Lawrence River, didn't see it before 1608? Maybe they were so intent on looking at the river they didn't look up the hill the city was built on. And I wonder what effect "discovering Quebec" had on property values?  Do you think there was a Starbucks there before de Champlain discovered the city, or did that come later?



Last Edited on: 1/21/19 12:04 AM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 7/7/2018 11:50 PM ET
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I just finished reading The Civil War in Color: A Photographic Reenactment of the War Between the States.   While the book helped me feel closer to the people who lived back then, those same people would probably be surprised at the author's description of the length of the war. On one page he states "... the Civil War lasted almost five years."

Well, let's see, subtract April 1861, when the war began, from April 1865, when the war ended, and you have..... Wait, let me doublecheck that.... Yep, it still comes out as four years.

The last time I saw an error in the length of time the war lasted was when I spoke to a 5th grade class of a public school in the town where I live. The teacher had the beginning and ending dates of the war on the blackboard. She was teaching her students the war begain in April 1861, but ended in April 1864.  While this was bad enough, I told her I was dressed as a Union soldier, but she introduced me to her class as a Confederate soldier. Plus, she was upset I contradicted her in front of the class. After that, I told the school district to take me off its list of volunteer speakers.



Last Edited on: 7/7/18 11:50 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 8/25/2018 9:25 PM ET
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Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff is an interesting story from World War II which made big headlines in 1945, but which I was unaware of.

There are three interesting errors in the book:

1) The author claims the "7th Marine Division" fought in Okinawa. There was never such a division, and the author must have confused a mention of the 7th Marines (a regiment of the 1st Marine Division) for a division. This is a rather common mistake made by writers who do not have an adequate understanding of the Marine Corps.

2) The author relates how one Filipino paratrooper, Corporal Ramirez, was captured on Bataan and was part of the Bataan Death March, but escaped and left the islands by getting on a hospital ship in Manila which was bound for Australia. When you consider the Japanese had captured Manila months before they captured Bataan, this obviously never happened. At least, not in that sequence. If Ramirez escaped during the Death March, he obviously got to Australia by another means.

3) On page 153, the author describes a "walkie-talkie" as a "35 pound, two-way radio the size of a small suitcase." Yet on page 187 there is a photo of the "walkie-talkie" which is actually hand-held and is just a bit larger than some of the "mobile phones" of the 1990s.
 



Last Edited on: 7/21/20 8:41 PM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 9/9/2018 8:09 PM ET
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Tara Revisited: Women, War & the Plantation Legend by Catherine Clinton is a good introduction to what conditions were really like in the South, during the Civil War as well as the ante-bellum period.

However, I did find two problem areas;

The author rates Pauline Cushman and Elizabeth van Lew as equal in their service to the Union as spies. While van Lew ran probably the greatest spy network of the war, Cushman's service is greatly exaggerated.

The author also states there were 60,000 soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg, when the total was closer to 175,000. Sometimes, you have to wonder why authors don't have their books reviewed by competent historians of the period in which they write.

 


Last Edited on: 9/9/18 8:12 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 2/5/2019 10:19 PM ET
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I just finished reading The Humorous Mr. Lincoln. The author made some interesting historical mistakes. For example, he had Lincoln visiting General Sherman in Georgia in 1864. That never happened, as Lincoln almost never left Washington during the war, except, mostly, to visit the Army of the Potomac in Maryland and Virginia, with a later trip to recently captured Richmond.

The author also relates how Major General Hooker's "...corps, slashed and pounded to bloody fragments, retreated across the river..." after the Battle of Chancellorsville."  Actually, the Army of the Potomac retreated in good order, without being pressured by the Confederates, with most of its corps in good shape. It was General Hooker who was "...slashed and pounded to bloody fragments," not the Army.



Last Edited on: 3/22/19 3:39 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 2/7/2019 7:54 PM ET
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Still speaking of Old Abe..... I both despise and enjoy the Microsoft News site on Windows 10. The people who put it together obviously never took any history or English courses when they went to school. So they often make really stupid mistakes, which is why I despise it, but then the mistakes are often so stupid they are funny, which is why I enjoy it.

Their latest gaffe has to do with some problems Lincoln had with money. To quote the site:

"In 1832, several years before he became president, Abraham Lincoln opened a business with a friend. But the business was unsuccessful and sank into the red. When the partner died, Lincoln decided to bear the brunt of the debt rather than saddle his friend's grieving family with it. Creditors went after Lincoln in court, and the sheriff took his only remaining assets: his horse and some surveying gear."

Read the first line above... "In 1832, several years before he became president..."  Since Lincoln was elected to the office of President of the United States in November 1860, but did not take office until March 1861, saying 1832 was only "...several years before..." is really pushing it. It would be more correct to say "...almost three decades..." as 1832 was 28 years before he was elected president.



Last Edited on: 2/7/19 7:52 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/9/2019 8:56 PM ET
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Just finished reading The Few by Alex Kershaw. It is about the American pilots who fought in the RAF during the Battle of Britain.  I've enjoyed Kershaw's other books, especially The Longest Winter, about the most decorated U.S. Army platoon in World War II.

However, Kershaw makes two interesting errors in The Few. He states on page 59 the Germans invaded Poland on 1 September 1940, when it was actually in 1939. And then, on page 17, he mentions German General Heinz Guderian, a very famous man who developed the panzer attack tactics, but calls him "Hans Guderian."

At my age I often forget people's name too, but I'm not writing a book. And you have to wonder who publishing firms are hiring to check 'facts' in the books they produce. Or don't publisher's do that anymore?



Last Edited on: 4/18/19 11:46 AM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 4/21/2019 8:48 AM ET
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The title of this tread is "Historians who make stupid mistakes." As a result, I really shouldn't be posting anything here which appears on the Windows 10 Microsoft News, as the people who write there are not historians, in any sense of the word. Hell, they don't even know how to write.

For example, see this entry for events which happened on 21 April:

"Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better know as Mark Twain, author of the novel Huckleberry Finn, dies at the age of 74, in Redding, Conn."

"better know" ?  How about "better known" !  And the sentence leads you to believe all Sam Clemens was famous for was his Huckleberry Finn novel.

But, what I really wanted to share with you is the unbelieveable fact that, according to the Microsoft people, jet fighters were first used in World War I. Here is the statement from the Microsoft News for "Today in History":

In 1918, "Manfred von Richthofen, the German flying ace popularly known as 'The Red Baron,' is killed at the age of 25, in the French skies by Allied fire. Richthofen got the famous nickname after he flew a Fokker triplane, painted entirely red as a tribute to his old cavalry regiment. He reportedly downed 80 enemy jets [italics mine] in his career." 

For many years it was assumed Richthofen was killed by RAF pilot Roy Brown, a Canadian. However, historians now believe Richthofen was killed by groundfire, from a sergeant in the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company . You can find a discussion of this in the above Wikipedia link to Richthofen.

 

 

 



Last Edited on: 4/21/19 9:02 AM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 5/6/2019 5:18 PM ET
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Yeah, I know, I keep harping about Microsoft and the mistakes in its history "news." I'd stop, but its too much fun to do so.

The U.S. Army is planning to replace its uniforms with a throwback to a World War II style. The change will start taking place in 2020. A Microsoft News story about this included a World War II photograph of General Doolittle and the men who flew with him on the 1942 mission over Tokyo. The caption stated "Major General Doolittle was third from the left in the front row."

Well, not so. The third guy from the left in the front row was wearing captain's bars, not general's stars, or even lieutenant colonel leaves, which Doolittle was at the time of the raid. Most of the others in the front row were also wearing captain's bars. In fact, General Doolittle wasn't even in the photograph. It's not hard to identify him as he has a very recognizable face and he was much shorter than most men.

Sometimes I wonder if the Microsoft people do this on purpose.



Last Edited on: 11/8/19 6:48 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/8/2019 6:50 PM ET
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In Death of a Nazi Army, the author makes some serious mistakes in his Prologue. Chief among these were the statements that London was under "murderous attack" by German V-1 rockets. While London did suffer from the V-1s, the British used captured German spies to convince the Nazis the rockets were landing too short of London and so the Nazis lengthened the aiming points into more rural areas. Despite what the author stated, the V-1s were not faster than any Allied fighters and fighters often shot the V-1s down or even tipped the V-1s' wings with their own to send the V-1s crashing into the ground. Plus, Allied leaders were in no way "almost forced" to seek peace to save London, as the author claims on one page, and then reverses himself later on a following page. However, the V-2 rockets which arrived later were faster than allied fighters and did cause significant damage, but many of them also missed London. .

Having said all that, the rest of the book is fascinating reading about Operating Cobra, the breakout and the almost complete destruction of two German armies.

Date Posted: 1/8/2020 10:33 PM ET
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The OSS---Office of Strategic Services---was the percursor to the CIA. What the OSS accomplished in World War II was mind-boggling. Especially, when you consider it didn't exist prior to the war. Those OSS agents who served behind enemy lines for days, weeks, months and years, deserve our admiration and thanks. Many of them died in the line of duty, often after terrible hardships, if not torture.

There are many books written about the OSS and its commander. William Donovan was a World War I hero who was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was also a WW II hero. There are numerous books written about him. However, what I want to do here is recommend a book on the OSS you shouldn't read. Click on the book's title to read my review.  

This Grim and Savage Game



Last Edited on: 5/3/20 8:15 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/4/2020 9:52 PM ET
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Well, it's been a few months since I posted anything here. Not that I haven't seen mistakes in some of the books I've read lately. But I couldn't pass letting you know MSNEWS did it again, in its "Today in History" for May 4th. As it stated:

"1942: Battle of the Coral Sea starts: This four-day battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II witnessed the use of aircraft carriers for the first time. Fought between the Imperial Japanese Navy and naval and air forces of the U.S. and Australia, it was the first instance after the start of the war in which Japan’s advance was checked by the Allies."

So, May 4, 1942 "...witnessed the use of aircraft carriers for the first time."

What a surprise this must be to a lot of people. Actually, I don't know when the first aircraft carrier was built, but I do know that the USS Langley was the first U.S. Navy carrier and it was commissioned in 1920. And, of course, the people at MSNEWS apparently never heard of the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, which brought the United States into World War II.  That was when Japanese aircraft took off from six Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft carriers to bomb the U.S. fleet in Hawaii.  Now I guess we'll have to rewrite the history books to show the Japanese planes flew all the way from Tokyo to bomb Hawaii.

What the dumbos at MSNEWS must have read, but which they screwed up when copying, is that the Battle of the Coral Sea was the first time a naval battle took place in which the ships of either side never saw each other and the attacks were carried out by planes launched by each side's carriers.



Last Edited on: 5/4/20 9:53 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 6/22/2020 8:39 PM ET
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In  Out of the Storm : The End of the Ciivl War, April-June 1865 , the author recounts the false story of Major General Chamberlain's claim he was given the responsibility to accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, and how Chamberlain called the Army of the Potomac to "Present Arms" to honor the Confederate soldiers as they filed by. This never happened.

Chamberlain wrote his book The Passing of the Armies in the late 1890s and included this bit of fantasy. When it was published, hundreds of Civil War Union veterans who were still alive, and were at Appomattox when the Confederates surrendered, wrote to newspapers and magazines stating they were there and what Chamberlain claimed never happened. And he wasn't placed in charge of the surrender. Finally, the author identifies Chamberlain as a brigadier general, when he had actually been promoted to major general a few months before the surrender.

Since these  are well-known facts among Civil War historians, you have to wonder if the author had other historians review his book before it was published. Having said that, this was the only error I found in the book. While I read a lot of Civil War history, I don't claim to be one of the top experts on this period.




Last Edited on: 6/22/20 8:40 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 6/25/2020 3:44 PM ET
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In today's "Today in History : 25 June" segment on the Windows 10 News, the Microsoft news center got it right when they included the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Where those clowns screwed up was in displaying an image showing U.S. cavalry defeating the Indians.  With so many different images of the defeat of Custer and the 7th Cavalry available on the Web, you have to wonder how they managed to display the wrong image.

Date Posted: 7/12/2020 11:56 AM ET
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I just finished reading The Great Rescue, a very interesting book about the U.S. involvement in World War I. The author, Peter Hernon, did a good job making the text interesting and it is an easy read. He also covers some aspects of the war ignored in other books.

However, I was surprised to find he didn't doublecheck some facts about Douglas MacArthur. It appears the author just accepted what MacArthur wrote in his autobiography. Historians learned quite some time ago not to accept many things MacArthur wrote about himself, especially press releases from his headquarters during World War II. Since this book was published in 2017, this is not all that forgiveable.

You can read more details in my review, accessed in the above link.



Last Edited on: 7/12/20 11:57 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 7/13/2020 1:43 PM ET
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While I was reading The Great Rescue (see directly above), I was also reading Hell Is Upon Us : D-Day in the Pacific June-August 1944 by Victor Brooks. I finished this one last night.  This author made a great many mistakes. He admits he is new to writing books on the war in the Pacific, and it shows. But his biggest mistake was in not getting it reviewed by someone familiar with that conflict. Aside from the mistakes I found, it was a good book. But I wouldn't recommend it to anyone not familiar with the war in the Pacific. Click on the link to see my review and the mistakes I found.

Date Posted: 7/24/2020 1:42 PM ET
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I just finished Why The Allies Won by Richard Overy.  I found it to be a very good book, and somewhat a revisionist history of World War II. I thought many of the author's "revisionist viewpoints" were valid. However, I had a problem with three things he stated. Please click on the title to see my review.



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Date Posted: 7/26/2020 3:26 PM ET
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I just finished reading Bushwhackers : The Civil War in North Carolina : The Mountains by William Trotter. This is part of the author's trilogy of the war in North Carolina. It was a very interesting story of the carnage in the East Tennessee and West North Carolina mountains.

However, on page 62, the author had William Thomas, the leader of one Confederate unit, enjoying special status as "...Thomas was blood-related to ex-President Zachary Taylor whose daughter happened to be married to Jefferson Davis." However, this was related to something occurring in 1862. But Jefferson Davis had married Taylor's daughter in late Spring 1835, and she died three months later, or 27 years before the incident related. By 1862, Jefferson Davis was married to another woman.



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I really dislike it when an author makes numerous stupid mistakes in a book. As this leads so many people astray, including myself if I don't enough about the subject matter.  And, quite frankly, I hate having to disparage the author by listing these mistakes. Despite my love of history, I'm not sure I could write a good history---or even a novel---myself.

But at least when I wrote articles for science journals and popular magazines, extension publications for the university I worked for, sections to be included in a science book edited by someone else and articles for the Civil War national press, I had the good sense to review my writing several times before passing it on to a colleague or two to review. It is amazing how many authors don't think they need to do that.

Anyway, I just finished reading Taking Command : General J Lawton Collins : From Guadalcanal to Utah Beach and Victory in Europe  by H. Paul Jeffers.  It would take too long to comment here on some sloppy writing in an otherwise good book. If you are interested, just click on the title to read my comments in my review.



Last Edited on: 8/8/20 9:55 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
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